Side A – Nia
Nia wanted to go to Margrada’s side. She wanted to play the drums with Margrada and break the world together and make it right once again.
But she couldn’t.
The fire wasn’t in her way, though it raged around her hot enough that the stone of she stood on was beginning to glow. There was too much magic in the air and too much inside Nia for something as simple as lava producing fire to stand between her and the woman who even at that moment was fighting for her life.
Nia held back for one very simple reason. All around her magic was shattering.
The mystical attacks from the Shatter Drums were breaking over her like waves, but the flames which ran through her burned more than that. Any magic she touched broke and was drawn inside, feeding the flames ever higher.
She couldn’t go to Margrada without destroying the magic that was keeping her and all the rest of the Frost Harbor Shatter Band safe.
And that was okay. All that was important was that they could work together, and Nia could see with perfect clarity the accompaniment Margrada needed.
The flames weren’t a Trouble any longer. They didn’t rage. They didn’t howl for blood, and death, and retribution. They didn’t understand gentleness, or kindness, or even measured responses, but they did understand Nia.
Walking across the stage was as simple as placing one foot in front of the other, but for Nia and the flames it became a dance, each one turning around the other as the flames spun to shield Nia from the increasingly desperate Shatter drum strikes and Nia turned to help the flames skip away from the echoes of hate and loathing that called out to them.
Stone puddled under their feet, seething orange and red, but it reached out to no one else, harmed no one at all, and burned with no malice.
The Shale Shard Shatter drummer couldn’t rise to bar her passage, or to strike her as she passed through their ranks. They were too caught up in the contest, too sorely pressed by Frost Harbor’s drums to spare any effort to oppose Nia’s journey.
Had she marched against them, their song would have turned on her, a necessity of self defense that would have led to a truly dire outcome, but the longer Nia and the flames danced, the more they spoke in the music with the beat of their heart and the rhythm of their steps.
They weren’t marching against the Shale Shard Shatter band, and so the music of the battle let them pass through
As Nia set foot on the floor on the other side of the stage and stared into the audience, the flames around her quieted and flickered away.
They knew her. They were content to stand with her. She would protect them from becoming something they no longer wished to be.
As nothing more than her broken and battered self, Nia advanced into the crowd, knowing her enemies awaited her within it.
Side B – Yasgrid
Yasgrid hit the ground softly. The fall that dropped her there wasn’t a short one, but it turned out that being surrounded by several feet of gooey black tar stuff made for a highly effective cushion.
Being splattered on the ground and stuck in tar seemed like at best a mild improvement and unlikely to change the time of her rapidly approaching suffocation, until the tar fell away from her in exactly the manner that tar doesn’t.
“Don’t let go,” Kyra said, standing up as the dead tar-beast-thing fell away from her as well.
Yasgrid wasn’t sure how Kyra had managed to slide the creature off either one of them without slicing them both open, especially since the knife in Kyra’s hand didn’t seem to be anything more than a well maintained hunk of pointy steel.
“Thank you,” Yasgrid said. “Are weapons acceptable now?”
“No.” Kyra wasn’t looking at her. She was scanning the forest around them.
“Should we be moving again then?” Yasgrid turned her attention to the forest around them. It had grown incompletely silent.
Yasgrid had seen a completely silent world when she and Nia discovered King’s home. The difference was profound. The world around her was absent of sound not because it was devoid of something. The silence held the presence and promise of something terrible.
“It’s too late for that.” Kyra didn’t bother to whisper her confirmation of Yasgrid’s fears. Whispering wasn’t going to save them.
“So we have to stand and fight?”
“I’m sorry,” Kyra said.
“Don’t be,” Yasgrid said. “You saved me just now. I appreciate that. Let’s keep doing it.”
“I don’t know if I can,” Kyra said.
“Not you,” Yasgrid said. “We. You’re not alone here.”
A small chuckle escaped from Kyra’s lips.
“This would be easier if I was,” she said.
“Can you save yourself? If you don’t have to worry about me?” Yasgrid asked.
“No. But it would be easier to lose if I knew no one else would be hurt in the process.” Kyra gave a tiny shrug which Yasgrid rejected.
“Then don’t lose,” Yasgrid said. “What are we up against?”
“It’s too complicated.”
“Then give me the simple version.”
“This isn’t a place as we know it. It’s a space on the border of creation. And these aren’t creatures or plants or anything rational. They’re things the gods didn’t include when they formed our world. Things that aren’t part of the rules that govern what it means to be alive, or dead, or even real.”
“And killing some of them makes the rest cranky?”
“No. These things don’t die. There aren’t even ‘things’. It’s all one thing, at least from some perspectives.”
“That sounds more philosophical than useful,” Yasgrid said.
“Philosophy is what makes this forest what it is,” Kyra said. “It’s defined as much by how we see it as it is by anything else.”
“What if we try to see it as something else then?” Yasgrid asked.
“Pretending this hate is something else won’t make it go away. This is something we have to face,” Kyra said. “Even if no one’s survived it before.”